Here’s what a bad boss is: Someone who lies, cheats, steals, or touches you after you’ve told him, in writing, not to. If you have one of these bosses, quit complaining and start applying for other jobs.
All other bosses aren’t truly bad — you’re just bad at managing them.
A Boss-Management Decalogue
One of the most important parts of being competent at work is managing up: Making sure you give your boss what he or she needs, and then getting what you need in return. That’s no one’s responsibility but your own.
Here are 10 ways to manage your boss:
1. Understand the person you’re dealing with.
Is she detail-oriented? Give her detailed reports. Is she a big-picture thinker? Tell her your big ideas. Does he like voicemail? Then leave some, even if you hate using it.
Understand her personality strengths and weaknesses, because this is usually the path toward forging a relationship. If you know her weaknesses, you can have empathy for her shortcomings instead of impatience. And whatever you feel will show, so figure out how to feel compassion for your boss, or you’ll get nowhere with her.
2. Ask for your quarterly goals, in writing.
If you don’t have goals, how can you even know what your job is? And if you don’t know what your job is, you can be sure you won’t make your boss happy.
If your boss does not know your goals either, write your own. Create a fun job for yourself that will be an integral part of the company’s strategy. If your boss doesn’t like the goals you create, she’ll suddenly be able to come up with them herself.
3. Know your boss’s biggest worries, and help him address them.
Why are you working on projects your boss doesn’t care about? Your job is to make your boss love you so he helps you get the skills you need to grow in your career.
If you have stuff on your plate that doesn’t matter, do it fast, and don’t worry about being judged on the quality of this work because your boss doesn’t care. Focus on the stuff that matters to your boss, because that’s what will make your boss love you.
4. Look at your boss’s weaknesses as opportunities.
If your boss is great at project management, then surely she doesn’t need you to do that. Be great at the stuff your boss is terrible at — like people management, maybe — and help your boss rally her troops. If she’s great at sales but hates the detailed reporting, get great at the reporting and offer to do all the stuff she hates to do.
If your boss is terrible at managing meetings, instead of complaining about it, volunteer to do the brunt of the organizing for him. He’ll appreciate that way more than you helping with stuff he doesn’t worry about.
5. Focus on your own needs by focusing on your boss’s needs.
You and your boss are a team. You make your boss look great in the organization and in the world, and your boss will help you grow and meet your own goals.
To do this, you need to focus more on helping your boss and less on doing work you love. The first act begets the second: A boss who feels indebted to you will give you what you want.
6. See the good in people.
Don’t tell me your boss doesn’t care about you, or that he’s only concerned with the bottom line. It’s not humanly possible for your boss to not care about you if you understand him, are there for him, support him, and genuinely care.
You have to be authentic with your boss to develop a real relationship. Figure out how to care about him deeply — as a person whom you can help. If you can’t do this for your boss, how can you expect it from him?
7. Get a list of your boss’s priorities.
When you have too much work, this allows you to tell your boss that you can’t do x, y, and z because they’re not high enough priorities to him. In other words, you can say, “I could do x, but you said a, b, and c are very important to you, and I don’t want to compromise those.”
This is a great way of saying “no” to work in a way that makes your boss feel very respected, understood, and taken care of.
8. Prioritize your own work in terms of what matters to your boss.
Fit your high-priority items into a reasonable schedule, and don’t do low-priority items until the important stuff is done. This allows you to always deliver on what matters to your boss.
Keeping your boss happy means being a high performer. People don’t care if you perform well on stuff that doesn’t matter to them, so don’t.
9. Give weekly updates.
It doesn’t matter if your boss asks for them or not. This is a team report, for you and your boss; you’re the team, working on your boss’s priorities.
This is when you tell your boss how much you’ve accomplished that will help her. Tell her things you see that might be roadblocks for her, and how you can help her fix them in the next week. Also tell her what you’re planning to do that’s extremely important to her so she’s sure not to ask you to do unimportant work over the next week.
10. Don’t get stuck on personality types.
We each have preferences for the people we hang out with. But the most successful people can get along with anyone. If you can’t get along with the type of person your boss is, it’s your shortcoming, not his.
Read some psychology books about social monitors, and how we can teach ourselves to authentically connect with anyone by practicing empathy. And then do it. After all, why is it your boss’s job to adjust to you? You’re the one with the problem.
The Choice Is Yours
The bottom line: Take responsibility for yourself. No one forces you to have the job you have. You could leave anytime
If you’re not going to leave, then you’re choosing the boss you have. And since you chose your boss, start making her into a good one. Otherwise, why did you choose her?